Federal Faces: The EPA’s Laura Moreno

October 29, 2012

Name: Laura Moreno: Working to reduce food waste and protect the environment.

Position: Life scientist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pacific southwest region.

Best known for: At 26, Moreno is a tireless crusader for reducing and recycling food waste. She works with universities and other organizations to educate them on how they can purchase leaner, thus improving their bottom line through cost savings and reducing their amount of food waste. Moreno also works with grocers — she has been known to peek into their trash on her site visits — and recommends how they can divert up to 95 percent of their trash for recycling.

The effort is part of a broader EPA initiative known as the Food Recovery Challenge. Each year, more than 33 million tons of food are thrown away, making it the single largest waste material reaching landfills. When food is disposed of in a landfill, it quickly rots and becomes a substantial source of methane — a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. A recent EPA study found that almost 13 percent of greenhouse emissions are associated with food — its production, manufacturing, transportation and disposal.

Moreno says she thinks the EPA program is an important first step in making the public aware that food waste is an issue and that there can be significant savings from improved purchasing, prevention and recycling practices.

Moreno has developed an online tool kit to help communities and businesses implement new anaerobic digestion projects, which break down food waste and turn it into a renewable energy source. The kit includes a financial assessment tool and Web site with basic information on food waste as well as an interactive geographic mapping tool with more than 45,000 data points connecting communities and businesses to facilities that can transform food waste into domestic energy.

Government work: She joined the EPA’s regional office in San Francisco as a federal career intern more than three years ago.

Motivation for service: As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, Moreno worked to implement waste-reduction and green-building programs in campus buildings. She said she learned the importance of reducing waste and wanted to make a larger impact. “One of the most important criteria for any job that I have is to feel like I am making a positive difference at the end of the day and working for the federal government more than fits that criterion,” she said.

Biggest challenge: Moreno’s work focuses on voluntary partnerships, so she is unable to require local governments or businesses to implement programs to reduce food waste. Instead, she must provide the information and tools necessary for them to make decisions and implement programs that are in the best interests of the organizations and the environment.

Quote: “Solid waste management is not a sexy topic, and it often gets overlooked. It is very important for the public to understand where we need to make improvements and have ample opportunities to do so while saving money.”

— From the Partnership for Public Service

For a full profile, go to The Fed Page at washingtonpost.com/politics/ federal-government.

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